Rwanda-DRC tension: Francophonie boss skips Kinshasa games

By Jeune Afrique

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Posted on August 4, 2023 11:48

Mushikiwabo OIF Secretary General Louise Mushikiwabo (©JOEL SAGET/AFP)
OIF Secretary General Louise Mushikiwabo (©JOEL SAGET/AFP)

Former Rwandan foreign minister turned Francophonie chief Louise Mushikiwabo is skipping this week’s Kinshasa games amid tension with DRC.

So much for sports bringing people together.

Persistent tensions between Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) are taking a toll on this week’s Francophonie Games, with the Rwandan head of the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie (OIF) skipping the ninth edition in Kinshasa.

Instead, Secretary-General Louise Mushikiwabo has sent her deputy, Caroline St-Hilaire, to the quadrennial gathering of 3,000 young athletes and artists from around 30 countries, which runs from 28 July to 6 August in the Congolese capital.

Officially, the OIF blames a bureaucratic mix-up. But Mushikiwabo’s past life as President Paul Kagame’s foreign minister for almost a decade, from 2009 to 2018, has not gone unnoticed.

While DRC communication minister Patrick Muyaya and deputy prime minister for the interior and security Peter Kazadi said on 24 July that Mushikiwabo would “indeed be in Kinshasa,” the Rwandan diplomat’s spokeswoman refuted that information the following day.

The confirmed absence of the OIF boss, co-organiser of the event, follows several days of confusion.

‘OIF does not need an invitation’

To justify Mushikiwabo’s absence, her office has said she did not receive an official invitation. The secretary general’s entourage insists the DRC had promised at the Permanent Council of Francophonie held in Paris on 21 June that it would hand her a personal invitation.

An appointment to do so had been set for 18 July. A source at the Congolese presidency said the foreign affairs ministry, led by Christophe Lutundula, had initially planned to send a representative to deliver the invitation in person.

The meeting was eventually cancelled, however, and an invitation was never formally extended. Oria Vande Weghe, Mushikiwabo’s spokeswoman, said the “confusing” sequence of events “led the secretary general to reconsider her trip”.

The Congolese are accusing Mushikiwabo of “politicising” the matter and using the absence of an invitation as a “pretext”. “The OIF does not need the invitation to come to an event that it has co-organised,” said a Congolese ministerial source.

Lutundula and the director of the national organising committee for the games, Isidore Kwandja, did not respond to requests for comment.

Security arrangements

Despite the cancelled meeting with Mushikiwabo, Congolese authorities said initial steps had been taken to ensure her security. At a press conference on 26 July, Muyaya said Lutundula had received a verbal memo from the French embassy on the subject.

On 19 July, the French embassy sent a letter to DRC‘s foreign affairs ministry. The document, seen by The Africa Report, has the French diplomatic representative saying Mushikiwabo “benefits from close protection provided in France and abroad by police officers from the Service de la Protection (SDLP)”. The SDLP – Protection Service – is a unit of the French National Police that protects French and foreign dignitaries as well as provide technical security support.

As this service is part of the French national police force, the embassy had taken the initiative of preparing for the arrival of six SDLP officers between 27 July and 29 July. The embassy also asked for “an escort from the DRC security services for all of the vehicle movements of the delegation”.

The DRC foreign affairs ministry replied five days later, stating in a letter dated 24 July that “all security and protocol arrangements” had been made.

However, Mushikiwabo’s entourage emphasised that these were merely “standard administrative procedures in the event of a visit” and that they only concerned “security officers and French nationals, registered with their embassy”.

“It is in no way the French embassy’s responsibility to confirm the secretary general’s arrival,” the OIF said.

DRC-Rwanda tension

Amid a climate of brewing crises between the DRC and Rwanda, the OIF chief’s absence has become an additional source of tension both in Kinshasa and within the diplomat’s entourage.

Mushikiwabo was reappointed head of the organisation in November after a first four-year term in 2018-2022. She previously served in the Rwandan government for a decade, including stints as minister of information and spokeswoman for Kagame’s government.

The imbroglio comes on the heels of a blistering report by a UN group of experts, published in June, which accuses Kigali of providing active support to the M23 rebels in eastern DRC – something Rwanda has denied – and as diplomatic relations between the two Great Lakes neighbours remain at a standstill.

This is not the first time that the relationship between the head of the OIF and the DRC has gone through a rough patch.

In November 2022, during the organisation’s summit in Djerba, DRC prime minister Sama Lukonde refused, among other demands, to pose for the official photo in the presence of President Kagame. That same month, the DRC unsuccessfully opposed Mushikiwabo’s re-election to a second term.

This May, DRC officials contested the OIF’s proposed audit of the Congolese electoral roll ahead of general elections in December. The organisation eventually decided it would not carry out the audit itself.

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